Pragmatic Plagiarism: Authorship, Profit, and Power
In this illuminating study, Marilyn Randall takes on the question of why some cases of literary repetition become great art, while others are relegated to the ignominy of plagiarism. Her discussion reveals that plagiarism is not the objective textual fact it is often taken for, but a phenomenon governed by the norms and conventions of literary reception.
Randall turns her focus on the critical debates surrounding cases of perceived plagiarism. Charting the progress of plagiarism in the history of Western letters, her study ranges over centuries, from the notion's first apperance in Roman times to contemporary disputes about intellectual property. Randall considers the development of copyright law and the notion of authorship, presents a wide range of texts, and draws aptly on Foucault's notion of the discursive construction of authorship.
Just as Foucault studied insanity to find out what was meant by sanity, says Randall, so the study of plagiarism can reveal what was meant by the term "literary" at various cultural moments. She shows that perceived instances of plagiarism are aspects of an ongoing power struggle in the literary field. And as she reveals, it is not the plagiarist but the accuser who is most concerned with achieving profit and power.